Preventing & Removing Ticks from Horses
Few things in life are more irksome than ticks. These diminutive arachnids are difficult to control and can cause major health issues in horses including Lyme disease. There are several species of tick, some of which will only seek out horses. Most are multi-host species which are happy to infest a variety of animals during their lives.
The severity of the tick problem that you may face will depend largely on where you live and ride but your horse could be exposed to ticks just about anywhere. Some species are mainly found in brush whereas others prefer grassy meadows. Horses can pick up the ticks by merely passing through the infested vegetation.
So, how do you minimise the prevalence of ticks?
You should start by reducing the number of tick-friendly environments in the areas that your horse occupies. Trim back pastures, hedgerows and fence lines to remove their habitat. Try to avoid stacking cut vegetation in or near turnout areas. Ticks don’t appreciate sun exposure so maximising the sunlight that reaches your pastures will help. You can do this by cutting back overhanging trees.
Ticks can be carried by wildlife so keep other animals such as deer out of your paddocks. You could also consider introducing tick predators to your property. Chickens love to eat ticks and would act as natural hoovers in mopping up the critters.
Preventive Horse Care
Environmental management will make a difference but you will still need to provide your horse with protection. Topical spot-on treatments are available and can offer protection for up to two weeks. Some fly sprays are also formulated to give protection against ticks. Look for products which feature permethrin as this is the most effective tick repellent. Many such sprays will require frequent application.
Regardless of the preventative measures that you have taken, ticks may still find their way onto your horse. You should check your horse daily for the presence of ticks. Look and feel for the critters whilst grooming. The most common areas for ticks to be found are the head, ears, throatlatch, mane and tail. Be sure to check under your horse’s tail, not just the top.
A "tick key" is a very useful tool to have for removing attached ticks. This is a small gadget that helps you to remove the tick without leaving the head behind. It is important to remove the head as leaving it in place may lead to an infection. A traditional method of removing ticks is the application of Vaseline or any petroleum jelly but this technique doesn’t work and may cause the tick to regurgitate into your horse’s blood. Use a "tick key" or a pair of tweezers as follows:
- Grab the tick firmly by the head, where it enters the skin
- Pull out the tick firmly and steadily but don’t yank
- Dispose of the tick in a small jar of rubbing alcohol
- Wash the attachment site with a mild antiseptic
- Wash your hands